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Assessment for Turkmen in Iran

Publisher Minorities at Risk Project
Publication Date 31 December 2003
Cite as Minorities at Risk Project, Assessment for Turkmen in Iran, 31 December 2003, available at: [accessed 19 October 2017]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.
Iran Facts
Area:    1,648,000 sq. km.
Capital:    Tehran
Total Population:    68,960,000 (source: U.S. Census Bureau, 1998, est.)

Risk Assessment | Analytic Summary | References

Risk Assessment

As an ethnonationalist group, the future condition of Turkmen in Iran will be closely tied to ongoing foreign relations between Iran and Turkmenistan, which for the time being appear relatively stable, regardless of the ideological support that Turkmenistan gives to its Sunni brethren. With little information on events in the Turkmen region of Iran, a plausible general link can be made to the Baluchis (another Sunni and rural group). Due to their sect of Islam, the Turkmen will likely continue to face cultural and political restrictions; however, without an overt challenge to the central Iranian authorities, governmental repression against Turkmen will also likely remain at a minimum.

Analytic Summary

The vast majority of Turkmen in Iran inhabit the region along the northern border of Iran across from what is now the state of Turkmenistan (previously a part of the USSR) (GROUPCON = 3). They have traditionally led a nomadic lifestyle; however, due to government policies, many have settled and now engage in agriculture. They are divided into several tribes, and are Sunni Muslims (CULDIFX4, CULDIFX5 = 2) who speak local dialects of Turkmeni (CULDIFX2 = 2). Much like Iran's other Sunni Muslim minorities (e.g., Kurds, Arabs, Baluchis), the Turkmen are somewhat restricted in the practice of their faith and the use of their language (CULPO103, CULP0203 = 2). Like most other Sunni Muslim groups in Iran, the Turkmen are prohibited from organizing politically and attaining high official positions (POLIC496-03, POLIC896-03 = 2).

The Turkmen arrived in the region at about the time of the rise of Islam in the 7th and 8th centuries. They remained fairly free of outside control until the decline of the Qajar dynasty, which they helped to bring to power, at the end of the 19th century. In 1925, Reza Shah, Iran's leader, ordered a pacification campaign against the Turkmen. This caused many Turkmen to flee to the Soviet Union but most returned in the 1930s due to the Soviet policies of collectivization and religious prejudices. Some tribes rebelled during the Soviet occupation of Iran that occurred during and shortly after World War II, but these rebellions ended shortly after the Soviets left in 1945.

Shortly after the Iranian revolution in 1979, the Turkmen rebelled against the new government demanding autonomy, official recognition of their language, and representation in local revolutionary councils dominated by Shi'i Muslims. However, this rebellion was crushed shortly thereafter, and their demands were not met. Since then, the Turkmen have suffered from the terror of Iran's revolutionary guards. In 1983, violence broke out when the revolutionary guard tried to prevent Turkmen women from working on farms and going about unveiled. This type of persecution, along with the Iran-Iraq war, caused many of them to flee to Turkey.

However, as a relatively rural minority that has not garnered much international media attention, a fine line exists between the government's forcible restriction against political mobilization, and the Turkmen major desire to simply maintain greater political rights in their own community (POLGR203 = 1). Like other Iranian tribal people, the Turkmen have remained far enough away from mainstream Iranian politics to exist free of recent repression (REP99-03=0) (although a key Turkmen uprising was quashed by the government following the 1979 revolution), but they also do not possess any cohesive opposition organizations that would raise the ire of Tehran's contemporary leadership (GOJPA03 = 0).


Helfgott, Leonard M. "The Structural Foundations of the National Minority Problem in Revolutionary Iran" Middle East Studies, XIII (1-4), pp.195-213.

Meron, Theodor "Iran's Challenge to the International Law of Human Rights" Human Rights Internet Reporter, 13 (1), Spring 1989, pp. 8-13.

Metz, Helen Chapin Iran: a Country Study (4th ed.), Federal Research Division, Library of Congress, 1987.

Richard, Yann "The Relevance of 'Nationalism' in Contemporary Iran" Middle East Review, Summer 1989, pp. 27-36.

Keesing's Contemporary Archive, Keesing's Record of World Events, 1990-1994.

UN Commission on Human Rights Report on the Islamic Republic of Iran, 12 February 1990.

US Department of State Human Rights Reports on Iran for 1991 & 1993; 2001-2003.

Lexis/Nexis: All News Files 1990-2003.

The Washington Post, 1990-1994.

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